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Latin Americans try to avert Haiti invasion

ALARMED at the prospect of the United States embarking on another military venture in its backyard, Venezuela yesterday proposed sending a diplomatic mission to Haiti to pre-empt an invasion by American-led forces.

The plan seemed to reflect widespread unease in Latin America about Washington's intentions. Brazil disclosed yesterday that it had been congratulated by its neighbours for abstaining in a United Nations vote on Sunday authorising an enventual invasion.

Any opposition from the Latin American governments would be likely to weigh heavily with the Clinton administration, which hosts a Western hemisphere summit in Miami at the end of the year. The only exception seems to be Argentina, which has offered troops for a landing force.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Burelli, said that military intervention would be a 'precedent that we do not want and we do not accept'. His government was trying to persuade Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil to send a joint mission to Port- au-Prince to persuade the military regime to step down before an invasion is ordered.

In Washington, officials stressed that no decision on military action to oust the regime of Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras had been taken. 'An invasion is not imminent at this point in time', William Gray, a former congressman now serving as special adviser to President Clinton on Haiti told the Washington Post. 'The time may come when it's necessary to take more drastic measures, but I don't think we're at that stage yet.'

Haiti this week declared a state of siege, which is allowed under the constitution if civil war or invasion is threatened. Since then, local media outlets have been warned against criticising the regime and a prominent opposition politician has been injured by gunfire in the streets.

Despite the UN resolution, President Clinton faces several persuasive arguments against using the military option, with support for intervention remaining weak on Capitol Hill and among voters. Only if America is faced with large new inflows of Haitian refugees is the US public likely to back an invasion.

Mr Gray was uncrompromising about what Washington expects of the regime in Haiti, which overthrew the elected President, Jean- Bertrand Aristide, in a 1991 coup. 'The only thing we are interested in discussing with the military leaders is the terms of their departure', he said. 'We are not interested in discussing . . . power-sharing arrangements or cosmetic changes.'

Officials from the Dominican Republic said yesterday they had reached agreement after an international force to patrol their border to prevent smuggling of fuel and other goods into Haiti. The mission will include 88 civilians and troops from the United States, Canada and Argentina.